If you've already spent some time with the iPad's touch-screen keyboard, you probably won't think twice about missing Escape and function keys. Instead, you'll be overjoyed at the return of the cursor arrow keys and Caps Lock control, which are absent from the iPad. Little things, like not having to switch menus just to type a number or exclamation mark, feel oddly liberating.
Beyond the keyboard, there's not much to know about this iPad accessory. The dock fused to the back of the keyboard is identical to Apple's $29 standard iPad dock, and includes a minijack audio output on the back, along with a passthrough 30-pin dock connection.
You can use the connection on the back to connect to a power supply or to a computer, but no cables or power adapters come included. On the upside, the fact that no power is necessary for the keyboard dock to operate is an advantage it has over wireless Bluetooth keyboards, which are also compatible with the iPad but require batteries.
The passthrough port can also be used to host iPad-compatible accessories and adapters, such as the Apple Camera Connection kit, or VGA video adapter.
In general, the keyboard feels natural, and typing becomes as effortless as with any other computer. Editing your text, however, is awkward. If you're at the end of a document and decide your intro paragraph needs a little work, instead of reaching for a mouse, you reach for the iPad's screen, poke the screen where you want to drop the cursor, and make your changes. Want to move a paragraph to the end of your document? Again, instead of selecting text with a mouse, you're selecting text using your finger on the iPad's touch screen. It's hard to say whether the awkwardness of touch-screen editing is just a learning curve or something inherent to devices like this, but you're in for a bumpy road either way.
Keyboard dock vs. Bluetooth keyboard
The iPad keyboard dock isn't the only game in town when it comes to equipping the iPad with a hard keyboard. With Bluetooth support for wireless keyboards (including Apple's own $69 model), the iPad has plenty of options available, and many sure to come.
There are advantages to using a wireless keyboard instead of Apple's keyboard dock. For starters, a Bluetooth keyboard is fairly universal and can be shared across several devices, making it a better overall value. Because a wireless keyboard doesn't hold or dock with the iPad, you're free to orient the device in portrait or landscape view. A wireless keyboard also allows you to keep your iPad in a case or sleeve while typing--something the dock's unyielding design doesn't tolerate.
That said, a wireless keyboard comes with its own set of issues. Without a dock, you'll still need some kind of stand to prop up your iPad. Bluetooth pairing never works out as quickly or seamlessly as we'd wish. Standard wireless keyboards will typically include incompatible function keys. And if Murphy's Law holds true, your Bluetooth keyboard's batteries may die when you need it most.
The Apple keyboard dock isn't a perfect solution for typing on an iPad, but compared to a wireless keyboard, we appreciate how simple, reliable, and sturdy it is. At half the price, it would be an easy iPad accessory to recommend generally, but as it stands, only those looking to do some serious text entry need apply.